Some of the most common questions I get are about what I eat when I go backpacking. Everyone has their own preferences, but after many trips I've narrowed down some of my favorite foods that are packable, nutritious, and get me excited for meals.
Despite most people thinking backpackers eat trail mix for days straight (if you do, more power to you!), I really enjoy variety and indulging when I'm in the mountains, and I'm willing to carry the extra weight to treat myself to proper meals. I'm pretty much the opposite of an ultralight backpacker, and my only requirements are my meals need to be:
1. Relatively packable and nonperishable
2. Filling/high in calories
Also, since most of my backpacking trips are short (2-3 nights) my meals can be more extravagant. When I go for longer trips, I definitely cut down and choose the lighter, more compact meal version of the ideas below.
- Oatmeal - for longer trips I'll baggie the oatmeal packet and some powdered milk (Nestle Nido) for the extra calories and richness. If I'm extra hungry that morning I'll also throw in some trail mix.
- Milk and cereal - For mornings where I don't want to whip out the stove, I'll dump a ziplock bag of pre-portioned cereal like bran flakes or granola with some Nestle Nido powdered milk. The best part is you only need to add cold water!
- Poptarts - These are great for those mornings you may need to eat on the trail and don't want to worry about dishes. My favorite way is eating them semi-frozen (seriously).
- Coffee - Do yourself a favor and get the Starbucks single serving packets. They're so much more $$$ but so much more delicious (best prices I've seen are at Costco). Some people like to bring creamer, but I find adding a little bit of my trusty powdered milk does wonders.
- Chai - Another great way to start the morning, and Chai always tastes better in the mountains
- Gourmet pizza - every person I've taken backpacking absolutely loves this one, and they will constantly tell me how much they crave it, even after the trip! It consists of:
- Tortilla - my favorites are spinach, whole wheat, or even pita for a heartier base, and if you have the room
- Pizza sauce - which I usually empty into a double-bagged ziplock sandwich bag
- Cheese - baby bell cheese, any wax covered cheese, or individually wrapped pre-sliced cheese
- Salami - my favorite is the dried salami with the white coating, but you can also use regular packaged sliced salami if you don't want the hassle of slicing the sausage
- Sun-dried tomatoes - julienne sliced adds that extra touch
Each person will get two of them. This meal seriously will get me through a hard day of climbing!
- Gourmet pizzas can also be modified for longer trips by just using tortilla, cheese, and salami
- Tuna and crackers - I love the Sunkist single serving packets with different flavors, and you can use any cracker that packs well like as Wheat Thins, Triscuits, water crackers, or saltines
- Meal bars - for longer trips and days where you want lunch on the go, meal bars are super convenient. I like the Pro Bars because they're filling and natural, and you can get them at a 10% discount from REI when buying 10 at a time.
- Any Mountain House - these have become my favorite and go to meal for the end of a day. I think the price point is fair considering you don't need to clean any pots or burn fuel simmering anything, you just need to pour boiling water into the bag itself and let it sit! My favorites are the Lasagna, Beef Stroganoff, and Chili Mac. For long trips we'll get the large can with 10 servings and divvy up a single serving into a ziplock bag for each night. Because they last so long, I'll usually stock up on the bi-annual REI 20% off sale
- Instant potatoes - I always go for the Idahoan packets since they have a variety of delicious and rich flavors. These serve so well as a side with any Mountain House meal, and are super filling while being easy to pack.
- A cheaper alternative to freeze-dried meals are the Knorrs Pasta Side dishes that you can find in any grocery. These used to be our go to dinner choice because of their price point, but you do have to clean the pot at the end and use more fuel to simmer the pasta for several minutes.
A big part of backpacking is the snacks! It's important to always keep your energy up on the trail and be continuously snacking throughout the day. For long trips I'll divvy up my snacks for each day into ziplock bags to make sure I'm rationing and eating enough each day. Some of my favorite trail snacks include:
- Beef jerky
- Bars - some of my favorite are RXBars, Larabar, Luna, KIND, PureProtein
- Sandwich crackers - these pack a surprisingly large caloric punch
- Fig newtons
- Peanut butter - I've packed an entire jar of peanut butter in my pack once. One of the foods with the highest calorie per ounce ratio you can pack, I eat it plain or dip just about anything into the jar.
- Sour candy is a favorite amongst backpackers - the sour flavor is so refreshing and amazing on the trail
- Emergen-C - tastes like delicious fruity soda to me, and it gives me an extra boost of Vitamin C
- Candy - I always have to end the day with something sweet, so don't feel guilty about packing some of your favorite candy. For me my go to is fruit snacks, peanut m&ms, or gummy bears
- Tea or Hot Cocoa - Another great way to end the day and warm up on those particularly chilly nights is to make some hot water for an evening warm beverage
Ziplock Bag Everything!
I'll re-bag most of the packed foods into ziplock bags the night before. This cuts down on carrying around the bulky packaging that comes with a lot of the food you buy, resulting in less food trash throughout the weekend. PLUS the ziplock bags can always be repurposed for a variety of needs on the trail.
Be Bear Safe
Here in California most places either require you to hike with bear cans or hang your food from a tree. I almost always bring my Bear Vault BV500 bear canister on every trip to the Sierra and have to make sure all my food and trash for the weekend can fit inside. Be sure to check the regulations and guidelines in your area.
One of my favorite things about taking backpacking trips is experimenting and figuring out what works best for me. Food is such an important part of any trip I take, backcountry or not, and there's something special about coming together at the end of a long day and appreciating the simple joys in life like a hot cup of tea or bowl of saucy noodles while watching the sunset.